Tin Star

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Barret Pilgrim is considered by many the first of the Entente authoritarian police: brutal, uncompromising, and unquestionably in charge. In reality this is a misapprehension. He was the last of a kind. The last rebel given a post-settlement position, the last of the pre-settlement colonists sent off world, the last lawman to seal legitimacy with elections, and the last colonial official to buck the Entente. -Prof. Duncan, “The Histories”

Barret looked out the window of his office at the steel skeleton of Holtz Prime. The sun was coming up and its first scything rays stung Barret’s half closed eyes like a weak acid. The gentle burning calling him to the promise of a new day. Fortunately the dome that capped the city had special tinting that softened the harsh morning light which made Barret’s traditional morning hangover all the more bearable. Last night, like all nights for the last six months, he’d been out there amongst the strange rough men who had come to build the future. And like all of them he gambled and swore and drank and fucked and fought. Usually it was him beating the tar out of everyone else. And like usual he somehow found his way back to his office to pass out in his chair and wait for the next night’s revelries.

Holtz Prime was Mars’s first long term colony, the last human colony incorporated under the old US constitution, and unmistakably Barret’s city. Construction had begun thirty years ago. Under the original plan the dome would have been capped and the atmosphere pumped in nearly two decades prior, but not long after construction had started, the Uprising had begun and progress froze for a long time. Even after the war was over, humanity took its time returning to the Red Planet. Just eighteen months ago the dome had been sealed and the atmosphere pressurized. The Holtz engines that simulated sea level earth gravity had finally been turned on and the first colonists began to arrive.

Unfortunately the first colonists hardly started any kind of construction. Six months ago the colonial administration, whose focus was mostly on the orbiting colonies, decided to send Barret to restore order. He was appointed provisional Marshall. It was a largely ceremonial role that was granted to him by an old friend inside the Entente. But in the last six months something strange happened to Barret: he found out that he liked this job and he liked it here. Being 54 million kilometers from the nearest governments lent itself to a semi lawlessness that encouraged the rough dangerous men who came that long distance to behave however they wanted. They were here to build the city, not live in it. After this job was done they’d be sent to the next one, or back to Earth for pseudo-retirement on public assistance, or just cut loose into the cosmos. The general laissez-faire attitude towards official authority synergized with the mostly undefined role of “Provisional Marshall” to give Barret all the latitude he wanted to impose order, and he did. Every night there was a drunken brawl over cards, or women, or just because. And every night Barret got to indulge his own dark temptations by beating and stunning and choking those dangerous, adventurous men into submission then drinking away the guilt. For every other Entente official who came to Holtz Prime, it was bedlam. For Barret, it was heaven. It was an endless war against the faceless chaos of the universe and the constant battle was the only thing that quieted the demons in his mind.

For six months he had brawled and battled and beaten his way to the top of the pile. Mars in these early days was the same cruel game of King of the Mountain that always took place when a new territory opened up. Barret had learned that growing up on the Moon, and now he applied those hard lessons taught to him with cruel indifference in his youth to his new home. The frontier was a wild place, a place where chaos and order came into stark, violent contact, it always would be. And it was this eternal tension that Barret loved. That was the secret. Everyone else was here out of necessity, either for a job, or running away, or because there just wasn’t anything else anywhere else. But Barret…he came here chasing chaos and to his eternal delight he found it.

Barret sat in his chair letting the glow of the softened martian sun swallow him like a warm bath. He was the high priest of chaos. His sacrament was violence, and fists his gospel. In these quiet reflective morning hours his mind was not haunted by the calamities he had lived. This morning, though, that would all change.

His door slid open with a subtle hiss. Though designed to be quiet and unobtrusive, even this small of a noise caused Barret to startle in his chair. He spun around and immediately was met by a most unexpected visitor. The woman was young, tall, and blonde. Her figure was thin, but cast an athletic silhouette. Her golden hair was the color of polished bronze and her green eyes glowed like emeralds. Either it was the hangover or the most beautiful woman Barret had ever seen had just walked into his office.

“Excuse me,” She began, “But are you…Marshall Pilgrim?” She asked referencing a tablet in her hand.

Barret blinked in reply as his mind stumbled feebly to realization.

“Umm, sir?” The Woman asked with a confused look as she leaned over his desk.

Barret’s mind finally cleared and he shot up with a start and finally replied, “Yeah..Yeah…I’m Barret.”

“Mother of God!” The girl shrieked as she leapt backwards, slapping a hand over her nose. “Jesus, did something die inside your mouth?”

“I..uh…” Barret managed to mumble as he blushed utterly mortified. It had been a long time since he had to care about how he presented himself. “Sorry.” He grumbled, “Long night.”

“I’ll say.” The newcomer answered taking a better look at Barret, sizing up his red face, bleary eyes, and fresh bruising from last night’s revelries, “Jesus, you’re drunk.”

“Uh…no…” Barret answered, “I’m hungover.”

“Either way.” She said a hint of disappointment creeping into her tone, “I’m Carrigan Winthrop.”

“Uhhh…OKay.” Barret mumbled in a confused reply.

The young woman stared at him for a moment then said, “The new Colonial Administrator….the new Entente Liaison.”

Barret blinked in confusion. “I have an Administrator Liaison?” He asked.

“Yes, well not exactly, but didn’t you…” Carrigan cut her reply short as she slapped her forehead in frustrated remembering, “That’s right, you don’t check your info feeds. Well, the TLDR is that people back on Earth are not happy with how things are going. There’ve been a lot of reports about beatings, and drinking, and drugs, and a general lack of building humanity’s first Martian colony. This coupled with no official communications about said chaos coming from you means they sent me.”

“Sent you to what?” Barret asked, his dulled senses and sodden mind slowly coming to understand what was happening.

“They sent me to investigate.” She said, her tone not too distinct from that of a teacher trying to explain to a kindergartener why the alphabet might be useful. “Officially I’m here to ‘Open clearer channels of communication and facilitate more efficient deployment of resources.’ Unofficially I’m here to write a report on how you’re a screw up and they need to just dissolve the Holtz Prime charter and lease Mars out piecemeal to corporate partners.”

“WHAT!” Barret roared as he leapt to his feet. His voice resonated like a lion’s and his once bleary, glazed over eyes were now laser focused. His face had shifted from the soft pink of alcohol and embarrassment to the fiery red of rage. “You’re going to take MARS from me!?”

“Uhhh….” Carrigan stammered. Barret’s sudden eruption had seriously shaken her standing. A moment before she was laying out the facts of life, or rather the facts of the Entente, to some helpless old drunk. The man now standing in front of her and fuming was a giant with the bearing of Caesar. Quickly she thought of something to say to try and sooth his sudden fury, “Well, not me exactly.” She said, “I’m kind of just an intro level person. I mean the whole point of me writing my report is to give my bosses a reason to come here and take over. They’ve already made decisions. I’m just a formality with no real authority.”

“All right.” Barret said a little more measured as he turned away to look out his window, “So how can you be useful to me?”

“Ummm…what?” Carrigan asked, now more confused than ever.

“You’re here, they’re not.” Barret said turning back around to face her, “You don’t have any real authority but you’ve got to write up some kind of fancy official thing, that’s it. I know how these rodeos go. I know the Entente, Hell…” He said trailing off for a moment, “I might be the god-forsaken thing’s father.” He paused, letting the realization he’d just come to settle in the air. Carrigan had found it hard to follow Barret to this point. But his cryptic metaphors began to spark a remembrance somewhere deep in her memory. Barret’s dossier had been surprisingly thin, but she remembered one sentence that stood out like a sore thumb painted in high-visibility yellow and was on fire. “But,” Barret began again, “You’re here, they’re not. So how do I use you to fix this damn thing?”

“Ummmm…” Carrigan began, “I’m not sure.”

“Hmmphhh.” Barret snorted as he sat at his desk and opened a large drawer. He pulled out a glass then paused and looked at Carrrigan. “Whiskey?” He asked.

“No thank you.” She replied a look of shock and disgust on her face.

“Suit yourself.” Barret said as he produced a bottle of high-end, Terrestrial distilled Kentucky Bourbon and began to pour.
“Look,” Carrigan replied, “I’m not here to help you really. I just want to do my job and go ho–Hey, look, is drinking, hungover at nine am really the best idea?” She asked as Barret drained nearly four fingers of whiskey and immediately poured four more.

He drained that too and replied, “It’s the best idea.” Barret put the glass and bourbon back in the drawer and shut it. He then stood up and walked around his desk towards the door. He grabbed a worn leather, sheepskin lined jacket off of the coat rack along with an old cowboy hat. Effortlessly and with the most indifferent ease he put them on as the automatic door opened. He then turned to Carrigan and said, “And that whiskey has given me a better idea. Come with me.” Then he left. Bewildered, overrun, and just a bit fearful, Carrigan found herself with no choice but to follow.

That morning had been surprisingly educational for Carrigan. Barret had walked her out of his office and through the ramshackle streets of Holtz Prime. The dome was finished, and the steel and carbon fiber skeleton of the first third of its tall buildings were complete, but other than the official offices in the center tower nothing really permanent was finished. Even the posh, upscale penthouse suites of the central tower where the future aristocratic elites of Holtz Prime would live had barely been plumbed and electrically wired. All the other accoutramounte, appliances, carpeting, furniture, fixtures, had not been installed. The whole city resonated with the eerie incompleteness of a house under construction. It was a place already haunted by its future.

The current residents of Holtz Prime had been the most eye-opening. A small handful lived in partially completed but not finished apartments in the central skyscrapers, but most lived in tent towns on the edges of the skeletal city. There were some asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks near the central tower where construction had begun eighteen months ago, but ninety percent of the ground of Holtz Prime was a fine red dust that even a mild glance could whip up into a furious cloud. The perpetual dust clouds swirled around the temporary settlements obscuring the true faces of the residents, shrouding them in the uncertainty of their own lives. These people were not the smiling, well-trained, post-modern corporate employees from Carrigan’s files. When she left Earth she had been given data reports, official communiques, and background files on everyone the Entente had hired and sent to make Mars livable. Included were company identification pictures of all their faces. Those people were smiling and hopeful. The people in her files were bright-eyed corporate peons fully integrated into the culture of a post-modern company.

The people she met on the streets of Holtz prime were not those people, figuratively and literally. The people here may have shared names, resemblances, and retinal scans with the people in her files, but beyond that they simply were not the people the Entente had sent. These people had craggly, lined faces, worn from work, drink, and worry. Their infinite wrinkles sank like chasms into their faces and filled with red dust creating an endless series of aging dunes. Their hair had greyed and the bright, optimistic light in their eyes had been replaced by the slow painful throb of stress. This was the two-thirds for whom she had background information. The other third were not even officially residents of Mars. Somehow, someway a large number of people had made it to Mars without official permission and in one or two cases, even official citizenship records. This alone was enough to stagger Carrigan and completely dissolve her expectations, but it was only the beginning.

The culture that these people had created was a strange wild west bazaar that simultaneously seemed too stereotypical to be true and too sad to be false. Most of the residents were that kind of normal person who when put in an insane situation adopted that insanity to survive, hoping at some point to get out. She could see that many were just trying to finish their contracts, knowing completion would set them up for a good life somewhere else, or at least a better life somewhere better than they had been before. Now they were doubting that they would ever see the end of their toils.

Others, largely those there without official permission, had a different glean in their eyes. These people were predators, plain and simple. They were the kind that were too dangerous and aggressive for normal society but had not yet been put in prison. Holtz Prime, it seemed, had become the repository for those unable to integrate and assimilate to the post-war culture on Earth. These were the moonshiners, the drug lords, the gamblers, the loan sharks, and even a few “legitimate” businessmen. People with trade connections to the Entente who could furnish any good produced on Earth or the Colonies. These people deeply frightened Carrigan. The glint in their eyes was that of a feral cat studying a helpless mouse, calculating when to pounce.

There were the Brayds, evangelical cultists from Earth’s latest mass flirtation with religion. They held Brayden Holtz in a sort of messianic awe, claiming that he died to save the planet and that a kind of universal enlightenment could be found in the source code for Millenium Coin. They exclusively used Millenium Coin for all their financial transactions, they only ate food produced by Holtz style synth farms, they wore white robes made from Holtz sustainable fibers, they shaved their heads bald, and when they weren’t telling you about the moral necessity of being like them they were chanting the unix syntax for Millenium Coin algorithms. After meeting them Carrigan began to question the wisdom of naming Mars’s first permanent settlement after Brayden Holtz. However she was more amazed and confused as to how on a red planet filled with unending dust and minimal laundry facilities these religious zealots kept their clothes so bleach white and freshly starched.

Finally there was the outright macabre. At the very fringe edge of the shanty town stood a collection of pink and purple tents that had been purposefully isolated from the rest. Here stood the sexual buffet of Holtz Prime. Two or three vicious looking pimps stood guard over their harem for rent. Here were young women who in Carrigan’s files were ostensibly twenty-something secretaries, data-managers, and even one supposed nurse. Not anymore. Here they had become uncomfortably thin waifs dressed up in provocative and licentious clothes. They wore gaudy makeup to distract from their sunken, glazed over eyes and despite the attempt to cover them with primitive pen-ink tattoos, you could still see the track marks in their arms.

Then there were the lady-boys. Not many, perhaps half a dozen or so, but they were there. On Earth Carrigan knew plenty of Frexies1, but they were not like this. On Earth, in the coddled confines of her university and cultured, urban, cosmopolitan polite society Frexies were tame activists and fashionistas. No matter how supposedly “barrier breaking” or “Generationally Defining” their dress or political stances, they would have looked at home at any dinner party or magazine cover. Here, in this strange frontier world where the rules were an afterthought, presentable society simply didn’t exist, and pure lust was a marketable good, things took a turn. The boys were young, none out of their teens, and none of them were in her list of official colonists. All of them were rail thin with peroxide blonde hair styled in Dionysian curls. They wore g-strings or speedos and cut off-belly tank tops. Their lips were painted bright red and puffed up with god knows what synthetic augmentation. Their makeup was actually better than the female prostitutes. Finally their manner was more than forward and some of the things they said, especially to Barret, were so sexually explicit and provocative that Carrigan, for the first time in her life, found herself repulsed by the verbalization of desire.

Thus ended her tour of Holtz Prime. Carrigan had been shaken and challenged by her first real collision with the other side of human nature. In the Colonial Administration on Earth humanity’s adventure into the unknown had been pitched as a noble and hopeful endeavor, the fulfillment of the utopian dreams of the technocrats who had built the Entente on the ashes of the old world. They just forgot to tell Carrigan, or anyone else, that they’d be sending actual people out there to build it.

Despite this unwelcome reality check there were two bright spots. The first were the people settled in the buildings. These people really were the educated middle class employees from her files. They had wives and children and worked the skilled labor jobs that required more intelligence and diligence than digging ditches. About half their wives were also middling employees and the half that didn’t work provided ad hoc child care for the wives that did. They even ran a semblance of a school out of one highly motivated, and very generous family’s apartment. This was the stable, middle class of Mars. Though it was a small, deliberately isolated neighborhood in one, half-built tower, and though they were no more than ten percent of the total population, they were there. They were there and they were trying. This small nucleus of normality would, if protected and allowed to develop, in time become the backbone of Mars.

The other silver lining was Barret himself. Everywhere they went the people respected and listened to him. The families in the tower thanked him profusely and the children drew him pictures. When foreman for construction crews needed someone to roust their drunken laborers and get them to work, they called Barret. When one guild was having problems with another guild, they called Barret to adjudicate. If someone had been robbed or beaten, or threatened, they called Barret. The predatory migrants who weren’t officially supposed to be on Mars gave him a wide berth and listened, if reluctantly, to his edicts. Even the pimps and lady boys of Holtz Prime’s bordello paid attention to him, even if merely out of fear.

From her first day on this brave new world Carrigan knew two things: Mars was a rough place filled with rough people, and that the only Law in Holtz Prime was the Law of Barret Pilgrim. After the tour they found themselves in one of the tent saloons enjoying some local refreshment. Barret ordered a whiskey neat, and Carrigan had ordered a Cosmopolitan with green apple vodka. The bartender had laughed at this so she settled for a diet cola with a splash of bathtub gin. They sat quietly, Barret constantly scanning the tent and checking his watch while she swirled her frontier drink in its glass and contemplated what she had learned. After a few minutes of thought she said to Barret:

“You know, it’s almost a miracle anything is built at all.”

“You’re telling me.” Barret replied.

“These people really respect you, you know.” She said, “You can see it in the way they talk to you, the way they listen to you.”

“They respect what will happen if they don’t respect me.” Barret snorted back, his eyes now locked on the entry flap to the saloon tent.

“I don’t think so.” Carrigan replied taking a drink. Her drink tasted like aspartame and turpentine and her face contorted with every sip. “I’ve been thinking, and I think there is something I can do for you. I think I can help you stay in charge here.”

“Good.” Barret replied his eyes still locked on the saloon’s entrance.

They sat in silence for a moment, before Carrigan said, “Well don’t you want to know what that is?”

“Nope.” Barret replied curtly, “Just do it.”

Carrigan grimaced in frustration. She had no idea what to make of this strange, rude law man. She resolved to submit her report with her findings from today on the highest priority as well as to leak it to some select journalists she knew from university. With careful management of the story she may be able to get this place back on track. She drained the rest of her glass, though it made her wretch, and got up to leave. She looked at Barret and said, “I have some work to do tonight on my report. We can go over it tomorrow morning in your office.”

“Sure.” Barret said, still staring at the tent’s entrance.

Carrigan turned and looked at the door and its spectacular lack of anything and finally asked, “What are you looking at over there anyway?”

“That.” Barret said glancing at his watch and nodding towards the flap. In that moment, a stream of a dozen or more large, tough, dangerous looking men came into the tent. Welding gear, electrical pliers, and tools of all kinds hung from their dirty toolbelts. Their faces were lined with dust and construction grease while their eyes burned with the desire for release from their tedium. “Seventeen hours2.” Barret said bluntly holding up two fingers for the bartender to see, “Shift change. This crew and this bar are especially bad troublemakers.” He took a second look at the crew and then held up four fingers for the bartender. The barman dutifully brought four shots of whiskey over to Barret’s table and Barret drained the remainder of his drink and two of the shots. “Best you were gone.” He said matter of factly, “This place isn’t safe for a respectable young lady past first shift.” He got up from the table, cracked his neck and his knuckles and began to saunter over to the crew that had just come in. Heading his advice, Carrigan left as unobtrusively as she could. She wasn’t ten meters from the entrance before she heard men shouting coupled with the cold, hard whacking noise of flesh colliding with flesh.

Carrigan had helped herself to an empty apartment in the family neighborhood. She was supposed to stay at the official diplomatic hotel, but it was barely framed, let alone livable. So she ended up in the one reasonably safe neighborhood there was on Mars. That night she drafted a preliminary report which was deliberately concise and direct. She raised issues with immigration and the frontier nature of the population, but she also highlighted Barret and the respect he garnered. She kept it short, only about 5,000 words, so that when it hit the net on Earth people might actually read it. Her plan to revitalize Holtz Prime was complex and would require some careful management, but she had a start.

The next morning she met Barret in his office at 10 hours and to her surprise he was neither drunk, hungover, nor disheveled. In fact it looked like he had actually showered and even brushed his teeth. Though there was no amount of mouthwash that could get the smell of whiskey off his breath, it was light years improvement from the previous day. ‘

“Oh my god.” She said taking him in, “Are you…clean….and sober? Are those clean clothes too?”

“Yep.” Barret replied with curt smoothness. A little bit of his usual rudeness seemed to have been knocked off his tone as well.

“To what do I owe the honor?” Carrigna asked with a tint of sarcasm as she sat down opposite him at his desk.

“You.” Barret answered as he poured himself coffee, “I have to work with someone else now. Someone respectable. So while you’re here you get a better version of me.”

“I’m touched.” Carrigan replied half sincere and half mockingly as she poured herself some coffee, “So I have my initial report. I want to go over it with you and what I’ve got planned. If you’ve got time. I mean I don’t know if you have to go beat anyone up right now.”

Barret smiled warmly then replied, “Sure, tell me what you’ve got.”

Carrigan then went through her plan. The report was a sales pitch for Barret. Not for Entente officials, they would find an excuse to take over no matter what she wrote. It was a sales pitch for the stable middle class on Earth who had some influence on the way government functioned. Granted most of the colonial business was overseen by bureaucrats who were not directly answerable to the elected governments, but politicians were still a thing and they caved very quickly to public pressure these days. Yon Lutze, after all, almost got his wish. His problem is that there was a serious Entente presence on Lagrange 3. On Mars there was only Barret and Carrigan. Add to this the fact that removing Barret would mean explaining why he got his job in the first place. Though Barret did not contribute much to their conversation he was attentive and engaged. There was a recognition on his part that Carrigan knew what she was doing and that this was her world and he needed to trust her. However when the subject of how and why he was appointed in the first place came up, he seemed to retreat. Suddenly he was not quite as open or forthcoming. He seemed to want to avoid the subject altogether. Carrigan remembered that giant burning red flag from his dossier and decided to press him, if only slightly.

“Barret,” She began softly, “I can’t make you tell me. But it would make my job a hell of a lot easier if you just answered me one question. Will you do that?”

“Hmmm.” Barret half growled behind closed teeth. He was looking away from her, staring out the window and checking his watch. It was as if the Chaos was calling him forth. Calling him to forget his tragedies, to forget his pain, to forget his sorrow and to drown it all in whiskey and violence.

Carrigan took a careful note of him and his attitude. She continued onward, but she chose every word and intonation very carefully. She was walking a very dangerous path and measured each and every step with supreme caution. “Your file, your dossier, is pretty thin.” She began, “There just isn’t much on you in there. Nothing on where you grew up or went to school, or even what unit you served in. But there is one sentence that isn’t redacted that mentions the second Battle of Armstrong, on the the moon. The siege that broke the rebellion finally. Were…Barret, were you there? Is that why you got this job?”

Barret stared out the window for a long time. The memories of the awful siege, the last violent spasms of the uprising before the solar system regained peace welling up in him, burning his very soul. After a long, heavy moment Barret finally replied, “Yes.” He then swiveled in his chair and opened his desk drawer. He pulled out his bottle of fine whiskey and poured four fingers in a glass. “Sixteen hours.” He said bluntly, “I’m due out on my rounds.” He drained the whiskey, poured another, drained that, and got up in a hurry. He put on his jacket and hat in almost ritualistic fashion. In that moment he did not look like a lawman, but more like a junkie getting ready to get their fix. Carrigan noticed this and decided to take a gamble.

“Barret,” She began in a warm friendly tone, “Do me a favor will you? To make it easier for me to actually pull this off.”

“What?” Barret asked in an annoyed voice. He had sat quietly and been nice for the last six hours, now it was his turn to indulge and her incessant questions were keeping him from his diversions.

“Don’t beat up anyone you don’t have to.” She replied calmly, “Don’t fight anyone any more than you have to. Try not to brutalize people or start fights. Try acting like a real peace officer. I can only spin things so much. If your usual behavior got back to Earth, there is no amount of managing the narrative that could save you.”

Barret stood still for a long time. He was looking down at his boots while slowly clenching and unclenching his fists. There was a great amount of tension in the room and though she did not show it, Carrigan was genuinely fearful of what this dangerous, aggressive man with serious Shell Shock would do next. Finally behind gritted teeth Barret grunted his reply: “I’ll try.” His voice was overflowing with anger but Carrigan thought she detected just the slightest hint of resignation as well. With that he left to go on his rounds.

As soon as the door slid shut Carrigan exhaled deeply. She had a plan to manage everything and managing Barret was a huge part of that. She had survived her first real confrontation with his dangerous side and, for the first time in a long time, she felt alive. She reached for his fancy whiskey and poured herself a small glass. She sat back her fear already morphing into self congratulation. She enjoyed the fine bourbon while she put the finishing touches on her report. Barret was the biggest problem she had. If she could handle him, everything else would be cake. After all, how hard could it be to sell the people on Earth on the idea that the only person who could save Mars was a genuine war hero. The savior of the Siege of Armstrong. He probably wasn’t. But people love heroes and they build their own mythologies to suite their moods. This was in the bag. With that she submitted her report and patted herself on the back one last time.

The next few weeks were a vast improvement. They were almost blissful. Barret was behaving himself, though Carrigan could see the strain it was taking on his psyche. He was eating better and drinking less. He was bathing more and beating up fewer people. Day by day, person by person, he was developing methods to keep the peace, enforce the law, and to keep people on task and on schedule, without becoming a brutalizing tyrant. Meanwhile on Earth the narrative was going their way. The Entente had immediately announce a review of Barret Pilgrim and how he wound up on Mars in the first place, but the net journos Carrigan had leaked the report to beat them to it. Socmed platforms exploded with support for Barret and he was fast becoming a celebrity to the major net talk shows. For a planet desperate to forget the scourge of war and to embrace a new hopeful vision, Barret was a glass of warm milk. A genuine war hero who had Survived the second Battle of Armstrong. He brought peace to the Moon, now he would bring peace to Mars. Carrigan’s hunches had been right.

The people of Holtz Prime also responded positively to the new and improved Barret Pilgrim. He truly became a provisional marshall, and they revelled in the newfound peace. People were working more, drinking less, and a generally more hopeful atmosphere seemed to emerge. No longer were the tired desperate people pessimistic. Things were finally looking up. Talk shifted from whether they could finish and collect their contract pay to how much of a bonus they might be entitled to if they finished early. Everyone was happy.

Especially Carrigan. Something unexpected had happened to her while she spent time with Barret. She found herself attracted to this strange, dangerous, damaged, but surprisingly vulnerable and warm man. He was much older than she was, sure. He was severely hurt from his experience in the war, yes. But there was a real man underneath it all. There was the potential for a future. Not to mention that all the bureaucratic yes men, snivelling politicians, and conniving businessmen she might have married on Earth did nothing but disgust her. Add to that that her generation, the generation just young enough to have missed the war but old enough to enjoy the spoils bought with others’ blood, was packed to the gills with effiminate social climbers who cared more about their status on Socmed sites than they ever did about any woman who showed a glimmer of interest in them. Take all this together and suddenly Barret was the only real man she even knew. She often wondered where this anachronism had come from. What pocket of pre war, old school America could have produced such a man?

Finally, she could sense an attraction on his part as well. She could tell he was interested in her, but each time she tried to get close, or learn some of his story, he pulled away. Yes, things were getting better. Yes, things were going their way, but Barret in addition to fighting his addictions to drink and violence, also seemed troubled. He was polite and effective when doing his job, but privately he had the look of man walking to the gallows. Though she tried to get close, once all but throwing herself into his bed, he refused. Barret was obviously waiting to see if the other shoe would drop. Carrigan, unworried and confident her plan would prevail thought his fears misplaced. Soon enough the Entente would issue their report, clear him, and appoint her official liaison in perpetuity. She was staying. And as soon as Barret caved to her feminine charm, she would be the most powerful person on Mars.

Six weeks after she had arrived on Mars, things came to screeching halt. The day had started like any other. She walked briskly from her apartment to Barret’s office. Her head was held high and there was a distinct bounce in her step. The last few days she didn’t even need coffee to wake up. The Entente was transmitting their report this morning. No doubt Barret would have it up when she got to the office at nine hours. Once cleared he would relax and then she would get what she really wanted: Security and a future. That morning she practically danced to work.

The door to Barret’s office slid open and Carrigan leapt more than stepped through it. “Good morning!” She chimed in a cheerful musical tone, “How’s our provisional marshall today?”

The whimsy in her voice and joy in her eyes died when she got a look at Barret. He was stone faced and solemn as he watched the vid screen of the Entente Colonial official giving his official findings and recommendations. No longer did Barret look like a man walking to the gallows, but now he had the noose around his neck, and it was beginning to tighten.

“What’s wrong?” Carrigan asked sitting down worriedly.

“They found out.” Barret said flatly. He turned the vid screen so she could see and turned up the volume. He poured himself a large drink and got up from his desk. He stood at the window looking out on Holtz Prime, his secret heaven, soon to be gone. At this moment, everyone on Holtz Prime was going to find out exactly who Barret Pilgrim was. Carrigan found herself glued to the report. As the facts were presented the mistake she made, her one wrong assumption, was laid bare. With each word her throat seized and her eyes welled up with tears. How could she have been so wrong, so stupid?

Barret Pilgrim, the Entente had discovered, was not a war hero. He was not from Earth or from the lunar colonies that had allied with the Earth or supported the war effort. He was a rebel, and an original rebel to boot. He was at both battles of Armstrong because he had grown up in Armstrong, the moon’s most notoriously dangerous frontier colony. He had been orphaned at 12, avoided colonial authority custody, and ran with criminal gangs and colonial agitators. At 17 he was part of a group of toughs who had blown up one of Armstrong’s Thorium mines. At 20 he was part of an insurgent cell on Armstrong and had led the victorious rebel attack against Earth Authorities that sparked the uprising.

For the next fifteen years he seemed to be everywhere, working his way up the chain of command as the rebellion gained cohesion. He fought on Lagrange 4, led the commando raid that seized control of Langrane 2, and was even involved in the siege of New York that had broken the back of the UN and thrown Earth into chaos. There were pictures of him shaking hands with African Warlords, Chinese ambassadors, and Canadian traitors.

When Earth coalesced around the first alliances that would become the Entente and began to fight back, Barret retreated with the rest of the rebels. Slowly, inch by inch, step by step, he and his ilk were forced back to their original stronghold: the town of Armstrong on the Moon. There he had endured a brutal siege that killed three out of every five remaining rebels. These were the ghosts that haunted him. At the report’s conclusion there was even footage of Barret haggard and wan emerging from the rubble of Armstrong, his hands raised in surrender. He wasn’t a hero, not even close. He was a rebel, the original rebel and the last. He wasn’t part of the Entente, nor would he ever be. This kind of man could not be trusted with Earth’s first permanent settlement on Mars. He was going to be arrested and probably killed.

Carrigan absorbed all this and cried silently. She felt hurt, deceived, betrayed. This great man was not what he had seemed. The qualities she had admired were real enough, but they had been nursed by the venom of a serpent. Barret Pilgrim was not who she had thought, he was something far, far worse. After the Entente official had finished speaking, Carrigan muted the broadcast and sat in silence for a long time. For his part Barret had not moved, he stood there the whole time staring out his window, wordlessly drinking his whiskey.

After what felt like forever Carrigan finally asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Barret sipped his whiskey and quietly replied, “I thought no one would find out. I thought my friend who got me this job would kill the investigation. I thought wrong.”

“You did.” Carrigan replied meanly. She sat quietly for a few minutes as her shock and disappointment slowly morphed into anger, “And what about me?” She asked, venom creeping into her voice, “I practically threw myself at you. Did it occur to you that maybe I should know who you really are?”

“It did.” Barret replied, “And if things had worked out, I’d have told you. Until then, I didn’t want to get your hopes up. Doesn’t matter now, though, does it?”
“No.” Carrigan replied. “So what now?”

Barret finished his drink then turned and walked to his desk. He opened a different drawer and pulled out a large, finely finshed, wooden box. “Now you go home.” He said flatly as he opened the box and pulled out a giant, blued steel revolver, “And I get ready for what they’re sending.”

“What?!” Carrigan asked in utter shock, “You’re not going to fight them are you? They’ll be sending a serious para-military team. They’ll gun you down in the streets!”

“I’ve fought before.” Barret said as he opened the cylinder and checked the action on his weapon, “And I’ve lost before.”

Carrigan’s face twisted in disgust as she pushed herself away from his desk. She was so repulsed she couldn’t even speak as she gathered her things and turned to leave. Just as the door slid open Barret spoke one last time.

“You don’t deserve this.” He said sadly as he loaded his revolver, “You deserve better and you deserve something good. I–” He cut himself short and there was a slight crack in his voice. After a short pause he gathered himself and said, “I should have died on Armstrong.”

Wordlessly, Carrigan left.

The walk back to her apartment was the exact opposite of her walk to work that morning. She walked with the reluctant necessity of a funeral march, somberly shuffling towards the inevitable. She wasn’t halfway home before she noticed she wasn’t the only one. The people of Holtz prime seemed to share her despondence. Aimlessly they wandered around the half-built city like zombies, each one wearing the same face of disbelief and melancholy as Carrigan. The families in her building were the saddest of all. Usually people had their door open and any random unit would become impromptu gatherings. Today doors were shut and people only emerged for the barest of necessity. Even the men and women with jobs weren’t working today. Most telling was that no one could look Carrigan in the eyes. Where once she would have been greeted by inviting warm smiles, now she was met only by sad, diverted gazes. All in one moment it seemed, the heart had been ripped out of Holtz Prime. Carrign finally arrived at her apartment and tried to pack, but instead she only collapsed on her bed and cried.

She stayed there most of the day. There didn’t seem much point in doing anything else. The Entente’s response would be predictable: a very powerful, para-military force would be deployed under the auspices of a single, highly connected, highly entrenched Entente official. Holtz Prime would be placed under martial law. Barret would face summary execution, if he didn’t get himself killed first, and Mars would “prosper”. Sure people would go to work, things would get back on track, and all the sleaze, drugs, booze, and general gangsterism would disappear. On paper everything would become a picturesque Entente project, a blissful expression of man fully utilizing his technology to conquer the stars. In practice the people of Mars would become Entente indentured servants. They would work for the Entente and the products of their labor would go to benefit the already rich and powerful on Earth. Finally, the peace would be kept by making any troublemakers disappear and everyone else would find it easier and more profitable to just keep their heads down and ignore what was happening. Probably the people sent to take control were already on their way.

Carrigan thought of all this and cried. She cried for herself and how she coveted the power that would soon belong to the Entente. She Cried for Barret who would soon be dead. She cried for the people of Holtz Prime who would soon learn what Earth was becoming and had fled all the way to Mars to avoid it. Finally she cried for the families of her building. They were normal industrious people who had found one chance at real freedom and a new beginning and it was going to be capriciously taken from them. It was while she was thinking of these people that one of them knocked on her door.

The sound startled Carrigan as it shook her from her depressive daze. She answered the door to find one of the wives she had gotten to know standing in her doorway with her daughter. The girl was holding a picture. Both looked very sad.

“Oh Hello.” Carrigan said as she greeted them, “Sorry…it’s…it’s been a bad day.”

“I know.” Said the woman, “I’m sorry to bother you, I guess you’re getting ready to leave, but Kristy made you a picture yesterday and she wanted you to have it before you left.”

“Oh thank you.” Carrigan said as she smiled sadly and knelt to accept her gift, “What is it?”

“It’s a picture of you and me and Mister Pilgrim.” The girl said handing over her drawing. “I made it yesterday after you came to school.”

“It’s lovely.” Carrigan said accepting the present. She stood up and met the mother’s sad gaze. After a somber moment she said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what’s going to happen. I thought…I thought I could keep Mars out of their hands. I thought Barret was the key to that.”

“We did too.” Said the woman as she smiled sadly, “Really it’s our fault. I’d asked my husband why we didn’t just elect him weeks ago, but everyone was so happy no one saw any need.”

“Yeah.” Carrigan answered in absent minded sadness as she looked at the picture. Then suddenly she shot straight up to full attention and she looked the woman directly in the eyes. No longer was Carrigan sad or morose. Something had caught her attention and all her emotions had been swept away by the light of inquiry. “Elected to what?” She asked earnestly.

“Oh, well, Sheriff of course.” The woman replied, “After all we were legally incorporated under the US constitution. The first people came here before the war. Sure everyone left when the uprising started, but the original charters are still legal. We could’ve just made him Sheriff, right?”

Carrigan’s eyes flitted back and forth, not looking at any particular thing as her mind ran through the new possibilities. She had never considered this. On Earth the US Constitution was in a nebulous legal status following the war. But off world? Where no rules or governing documents had been written to supplant it? Who knew. Carrigan was held in serious thought for a moment before finally saying to her guests, rather curtly too, “I’m sorry I have to go. There’s something I need to look into.” She immediately shut the door and then tied into the Net. No more crying, there was work to be done.

Two days later Barret was sitting in his office drinking, or still drunk from the night before, he couldn’t remember. The city had been quiet since the announcement. Sure enough the Entente had launched their goons a full week before the official inquiry was made public. Some bespeckled, spineless, greedy Entente crony was coming here to steal Barret’s city. Hell they’d already killed it. The news had put a damper on everything. People were drinking, sure, but it was out of sadness and depression. There weren’t any fights for him to settle, nor any crooks for him to put in their place, not even any out of control druggies to reign in. He had nothing to do but join the sad drinking himself. For the first time in a long, long time Barret couldn’t remember the last time he got into a fight. The beautiful temple of chaos that was Mars was dead. Burned to ground and its destroyers wouldn’t even be here for another nine weeks. Carthage had at least needed a siege, Barret thought. This was just pathetic.

As his blood began to get hot, and his revolver began to look mightily appealing, his door slid open and Carrigan came striding through with forceful purpose.

“Put the booze away.” She said dumping documents and an info tablet on his desk. While doing so she spied the revolver and added, “And put that thing away too. Unload it while you’re at it.”

“Wha–What?” Barret stammered half drunk and half surprised.

“The booze and the gun!” Carrigan answered forcefully in that tone women use to cow their men, “You’re not done yet. And we’ve got shit to do.”

“What are you talking about?” Barret asked sitting up, the alcoholic glaze fading from his eyes, “What on Earth can we do?”

“On Earth? Nothing.” Carrigan answered taking her seat across from Barret and organizing her documents, “But on Mars we’re going to make you Sheriff.”

“Sheriff?” Barret asked in shock, “How?”

“I’ll show you.” She said intently. “We’re going to use the Entente’s bureaucracy against it. This is going to be some serious legal Jiu-Jitsu we’re about to pull off so I need you to do what I say, when I say it, without question, got it?”

“Uhh….sure.” Barret replied coming fully awake. Sheriff. The word alone seemed to suggest the outline of her plan and suddenly he was furious for not thinking of it himself. He looked up at Carrigan and asked, “What first?”

First,” She answered scolding Barret in a forceful, confident tone, “You put away the booze and the gun.”

Carrigan had spent the previous two days going over everything related to the word “Sheriff”. The original legal documents, going back to copies of English Royal Edicts from a thousand years prior, US State constitutions, judicial rulings, the documents incorporating the Entente, and the few post settlement Entente Arbitrations there were. Though it was no longer in full effect on Earth, Carrigan was struck by just how judicially durable the Old US Constitution had proven to be.

She also gauged the public mood. Obviously in Holtz Prime people were despondent about Barret leaving, but surprisingly there was some support on Earth, the Lagrange colonies, and even on the Moon. The revelations about Barret had reopened old wounds. Those who had supported the rebellion and lost were extremely upset one of their own was going to be hung out to dry. The Entente and its supporters did their best to remind everyone how awful the war was and why they were necessary, but ultimately only reminded everyone of why almost everyone was dissatisfied with the Entente in some way. The wounds from the uprising had not fully healed yet, and Barret had become a symbol of everything that had driven people to revolt in the first place. Old fault lines were opening and rather quickly the confident, secure rulings from the Entente had become nervous, shaky appeals.

This wasn’t perfect, but it provided one small opening for Carrigan to exploit. A real rebellion would be mercilessly crushed and everyone would look the other way and forget it. But a threatened rebellion? 54 million kilometers from the Entente’s power base? That was something else entirely. If she could present the Entente with something to avoid, and throw in the fact that the Entente would look like the aggressors, the rulebreakers, she might just scare them off. She went through all this with Barret that morning. He listened intently and it wasn’t long before he replaced his whiskey with coffee. By the end of the day he had cleaned up, sobered up, and was out canvassing the city with Carrigan. They presented their plan to the people of Holtz Prime and, sure enough, the people were enthusiastic. From the most respectable corporate leader family man to the most depraved and licentious lady-boy, from the most predatory drug-lord to the most passive Brayd, everyone was unanimously behind Barret.

It did not take long to organize an election and almost everyone who voted publicly recorded their vote to avoid accusations of fraud. A governing council was hastily thrown together to ratify the results and, as luck would have it, one of the Brayds was an actual judge who had never resigned his credentials. Everything was set and within five days of Carrigan telling Barret her plan, the entire city of Holtz Prime was gathered for the most significant live stream in Solar System history.

There would be a significant delay, but that hardly mattered. They weren’t taking questions and if the people being sent to replace them were still more than a month away, what did it matter if they saw it now or fifteen minutes from now?

So the day after the election, on a live broadcast that was sent out to the whole solar system, Barret Pilgrim officially resigned as Provisional Marshall of Holtz Prime. He then took the oath of office of Sheriff, sworn in by a real judge, with his hand on a bible. The ceremony took place on the steps of what would become City Hall and everyone in the city turned out to watch and provide a backdrop of solidarity to the proceedings. Everything was rushed and so the production values weren’t terrific, but again this was far from the point. After he took the oath of office and had his badge pinned on by Carrigan, lending a shade of Entente legitimacy to the whole affair, he turned and looked directly at the camera and gave a speech.

“People of Mars, Earth, and all human colonies,” He began, “My name is Barret Pilgrim. I was once a rebel against Earth. I had my reasons then and I have my reasons now. After the war I became a prisoner and then a vagabond. Forturne smiled on me when I was appointed Provisional Marshall for this fine city, and now I have become their Sheriff. It is my duty to enforce the law, the law of the Constitution.” Barret put special emphasis on this word. Again despite the strange administrative world humanity had entered after the war some old things still held value. Barret continued, “Here, on this planet, in this city I have found something I never had before: a real home and real neighbors. It is the greatest honor of my life to serve those already here, building a new world. I will die for these people, and they for me. This scraggly collection of cast offs is something bureaucrats in the Entente cannot understand: a family, a community. And we will not give that up.” Here he paused and pointed theatrically at the Sheriff’s badge pinned to his shirt, “You see this? This is my Tin Star and if you want it you’ll have to pry it off my corpse. And if you want that you’ll have to get through the people of Holtz Prime.” At this grand conclusion the assembled citizenry of Holtz Prime roared in approval. The camera pulled in close on Barret’s cold, stern, rebel eyes and they turned up the background mics to accentuated the crowd noise. Then the Transmission cut. The message to the Entente was clear: we’re legal, we’re here, we aren’t going anywhere. What are you going to do about it?

It was a bluff, to be sure. If the Entente had really wanted to crush Holtz Prime it would have been a simple matter. They had the economic and military capital to flatten the city from orbit and just start over somewhere else. But did they have the political capital? The war was over, but it wasn’t dead, not by a long shot. It’s wounds were gangrenous and after the labor agitations on LaGrange 3 many in the Entente were worried about public perception, especially the few elected leaders who still had some influence. It was a bluff true, but Carrigan and Barret were not empty handed. All they had to do now was wait and see if it had worked. For about twenty minutes the people of Holtz Prime stood breathless, their eyes glued to major news feeds from Earth, waiting to see what would happen.

Finally it was announced that the Colonial Administration had recalled their replacement commission. The official reason given was “mission scope reassessment” but the concurrent announcement of a complete legal study to evaluate the legitimacy of Barret’s election was a dead giveaway. Such a study, with no official, binding reccomendations would not only take years, but be relatively meaningless. The Entente was backing down. This was one problem they could not confront…right now. For the foreseeable future Barret Pilgrim was in charge of Holtz Prime.

At this the city breathed a collective sigh of relief. Their lives were strange, isolated, hard, and sometimes desperate, but they were their own. And it would stay that way. After the sigh of relief came a massive cheer and Holtz Prime did what it did best: Party. Seemingly out of nowhere drinks, music, even parades erupted spontaneously from the gathered crowd. In the exuberance of the moment Carrigan threw her arms around Barret and kissed him on the cheek, then hugged him tightly. She’d done it. It’d worked. And it was this strange, terrible, good man who made it possible.

Barret hugged her back and after they relaxed their embrace they stood, still holding each other. Barret looked Carrigan in her eyes and said, smiling, “That was a great idea, Missy.”

“I thought so.” Carrigan replied Playfully, “So what’s next, Sheriff Pilgrim?”

“Well,” Barret began, “I was thinking: If I’m the Sheriff, I’m going to need a Mayor. Can you think of anyone crazy enough for that job?”

Carrigan smiled warmly as Barret drew her close, “Maybe,” She replied smiling, “I think I might know someone willing to put up with you.”

“I’ll bet.” Barret replied as he drew Carrigan in and kissed her.

In all the years to follow, no other moment quite felt as good as that one. Not only would Barret get what he had always wanted, but finally, finally, someone had beaten the Entente.

END NOTES

1 – Frexi, pl. Frexies, adj. Frexy, ”Free Sexually” common post-uprising vernacular for people who disobeyed nominal biological sexual and gender conventions.

2 – 17 hours = 3 PM. Earth Standard Calendar divided the day into 24 hours counted sequentially from 0000 to 2359

Published by ciegetanks

What happens when you put Homer, Shakespeare, 90's Spiderman, and Akira in a blender and thought barf it onto the internet? My Sci-Fi Blog is what! Take a read see if you can understand, if not then at least tolerate it.

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